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July 2, 2015 / Stephanie Anderson

Millennials vs. baby boomers: Who makes a better employee?

A millennial and a baby boomer show up for a job interview for a highly technical, high-responsibility position. The boomer arrives 5 minutes early carrying a briefcase filled with glossy brochures, printouts and examples of his work experience – and an impressive resume . The millennial is right on time, carrying a laptop. He has prepared a digital presentation of not only what he’s done at the one job he’s had before this, but also what he believes he could bring to the company and position if you give him the job

shutterstock_145156630Who do you hire?

Your answer might depend on the skills the job requires, but it also may be influenced by what you believe about workers from each generation. Do you ascribe to the view that millennials are lazy and entitled? Or that they’re all tech wizards and masters of digital communications? Do you believe baby boomers have a stronger work ethic than other generations? Or that they are so entrenched in old ways of doing things that they lack the flexibility to adapt to an ever-changing business world?

The frustrating thing is, all those beliefs are true … and not. Certain strengths and deficiencies are emblematic of each generation, and the skills, personality and capabilities of individuals within generations can vary greatly. When you’re weighing one candidate’s value over another, his or her generation is only one factor to consider. Still, age group can provide you with valuable insights – as any marketer knows.

Plenty of research indicates that certain characteristics seem to appear more common in certain generations. What’s more, the social, economic and historical events that occurred during the generation’s formative years seem to drive those characteristics. Consider these facts and implications about boomers and millennials.

Baby boomers:

  • The oldest baby boomers came of age during a period of social unrest, exploration and profound change. They are more likely to be nonconformists, independent thinkers, and highly aware of social issues and politics.
  • They may be approaching retirement age, but boomers aren’t all eager to retire. Many saw the dot.com bust and the Great Recession wipe out their retirement savings. In an AARP survey, 63 percent said they will work at least part-time during their retirement, and 5 percent say they don’t intend to ever retire.
  • They believe in the American dream, and they’re willing to be aggressive in their pursuit of it. This can make them highly motivated workers.

Millennials:

  • Millennials have never lived in a world without digital communication, and many of them have been using the Internet and social media all their lives. This makes them highly comfortable with technology and more likely to embrace new technological developments.
  • Many millennials had divorced parents. They’ve lived through the impact of an unbalanced home life, and they’re likely to place great emphasis on the importance of maintaining a work-life balance.
  • They’ve grown up in the most racially, ethnically and culturally diverse America ever. Millennials are likely to work well with people of many different backgrounds, and they tend to be good team players.

In the end, there’s likely no right or wrong answer to the question of who’s a better worker, a millennial or a boomer. As an employer, it’s important for you to understand where each worker is coming from, what skills and experience he or she brings to a job, and how to manage each individual toward the greatest level of quality and productivity he’s capable of.